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Easy access to the Coginchaug River is important for recreational use of the waterway. | (Photo by Diana Carr.)

River needs ‘doctoring’ but still a great regional resource


Unlike the Mississippi River, the Coginchaug River has not been given top billing in a song. But it can borrow some of the lyrics from Ol’ Man River, because it also “keeps on rollin’ along.”

The river rolls along for 16.1 miles, with a watershed of 39 square miles, through Guilford, Durham, and Middlefield, before meeting the Mattabesset River in Middletown, and is one of the few rivers in the area that flows from south to north. The name “Coginchaug” comes from the local Native American name for the Durham area, and it was the original name for the town. It means “The Great Swamp,” and is a reference to the meadows found in the central part of the town.

Information from the files of the Connecticut River Coastal Conservation District states that the Coginchaug River is on the state’s Impaired Waters List, due to its elevated levels of E.coli bacteria. This type of bacteria is an indicator of other disease-causing organisms, and is due, in part, to agricultural runoff and inadequate septic systems. The district has been working on a long-term effort to identify and address pollution sources in the Coginchaug River watershed. Activities have included water quality monitoring, outreach and education, and restoration projects.

However, the river is considered safe for canoing and kayaking, but not for swimming.

Though it’s in need of some “doctoring,” the Coginchaug River is still a source of enjoyment for locals. It’s home to an abundance of flora and fauna, with large numbers of nesting and migrating waterfowl. And it’s a fisherman’s delight. Chris McDowell, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said his organization will stock the river with 3,627 trout (which have been raised in hatcheries) both before and after Opening Day (April 19).

Many locals remember being a part of the annual fishing derby that used to be held at White’s Farm (in Durham; the river there is part of the Coginchaug watershed). “It was for kids up to the age of 16,” Ace Ackerman said. “They gave fishing poles and fishing equipment as prizes for catching the biggest fish, the first fish, and the first to get five fish, in each age group. We were only allowed to catch five fish.

“I’ve fished in this river all my life. I appreciate the quiet.”

Holly Pearce Bisson also has fond memories. “The day of the fishing derby, the whole bank would be lined up with kids,” she said. “It was a big town event. One year I caught three trout.

“When we were kids skating on the pond on Route 68, sometimes it would get too bumpy, and we would then cross over to the smooth river across the street. My mom said that when she was a kid, you could start there and skate all the way to Middlefield.”

Lorrie Martin and her family also have enjoyed the river. She remembers her son, Geoffrey, who was about six-years-old at the time, catching an eel in the fishing derby at White’s Farm. His excitement was short-lived, however. “He was disappointed that he didn’t get a prize for catching the biggest fish,” she said. “But the eel didn’t count. It had to be a trout.

“I’ve kayaked and canoed on the Coginchaug River, and the wildlife is incredible. It’s like you’ve been dropped into the Amazon jungle. You feel isolated, but you don’t have to go that far to get away from it all.”



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